Today the NY Regional Conference of Bricklayers & Allied Craftworkers are in the Albany to put on a demonstration event in the Legislative Office Building showcasing the benefits of both the materials and techniques their members and apprentices use. Knowledgeable instructors from the International Masonry Institute, which is a joint apprenticeship training program sponsored by the BACIU, were on hand to answer questions from the general public and legislators who were stopping by. A group of young enthusiastic workers were working right alongside the instructors. These young workers are apprentices, about a dozen of them in all, no older than 25 and they have a great story to tell about why they joined the building trades and what it has meant for them.
Meet Desmond, just 21 years old and an apprentice in the restoration field with Bricklayers Local 1 in New York City. Desmond always worked with his hands as a kid, especially with his dad on projects around the house. So after high school he signed up for the job corps and traveled to Georgia to learn a trade. It was there that he met his first bricklayer, George. For two years George showed him the ropes and Desmond took it all in. As Desmond says the most important skill in joining the trades for him was to “listen to those willing to teach”.
Soon George introduced him to the instructors for Local 1 and Desmond moved back to New York to enroll in the apprentice program. He was picked up right away to work on a job site where he is having a great impact, so much so that the local contractor, according to his instructor, didn’t want to lose Desmond for two days to attend the demonstration in Albany.
So what does Desmond think about unions?
“Getting that first paycheck and seeing that I have money set aside for my retirement, vacation and medical, at my age, I never thought I would see that. I know that I have a future. The work is hard, it’s psychical and not for everyone but we are actually paid competitive wages for the hard work that we do and safety is always a top priority. Without a union I know that wouldn’t happen.”
Then, there is Tavist, an apprentice with the Tile, Marble and Terrazzo class, Bricklayers Local 7. At 23, Tavist had some real experience looking for work before finding the Bricklayers. But unfortunately, everything he could find was a “dead end job.” He knew he wanted something better and started really pursuing the building trades. He was willing to take a chance for an apprenticeship because he said “The worst that could happen is I don’t get the job and I end up right back where I started,” 6 months on the job and he is happy he made the leap.
So what does Tavist think about unions?
“Team Work Makes the Dream Work! That is the one of the biggest differences I see from working those other jobs compared to being in the union. We are all a big family and we are all in this together.”
Joshua, a 23 year old brick layer apprentice with BAC Local 1 is a great example of the opportunity that joining the Building Trades can provide. Just a few years ago, Joshua was on the streets with few prospects before he signed up for a job corps program that helped him get his GED and training to get into the bricklayers program. Now he feels confident that he has a future.
What does Joshua think about unions?
“Every job ends when the construction is finished and you have to be a good worker for contractors to ask you to come back. It is a struggle, but it is worth it, I see my friends struggle in jobs that don’t have medical benefits or a pension plan. Where they don’t care about safety. In the union we are all brothers and sisters in it together.”
Desmond, Tavist, and Joshua demonstrate that there is a disconnect with those that attack unions by saying they aren’t relevant to young workers anymore. These apprentices are the union. They are the future workforce and they understand that being in a union is about earning competitive wages and benefits for their work, and knowing that they are part of a team that has their best interests at heart.
So the next time that you here some talking head rant about unions, think about these inspiring young men and how the union has changed their life. We wish them all the best of luck even though we don’t think they will need it with the union at their side.